Westmont Magazine Immersed in Life
Deeply held commitments to her family and to her church have shaped Spanish Professor Mary Docter. Each Sunday, her husband and children join her in a 200-mile round trip to attend her childhood congregation and to spend the afternoon with her parents, two brothers, three sisters and their families.
“My family was and is very close,” she explains. “They are my closest, dearest friends.”
The Docters are also lifelong members of the Salvation Army Church.
“My parents taught us about God, faith and ethics — about doing the right thing — at a very early age,” she says. “Through my family, I have learned about love, relationships and commitment to each other and to God.
“I find I grow the most through service to others, and that is why I am attracted to the Salvation Army,” she adds. “It enables me to express my Christianity in very practical ways — in rest homes and hospitals, in an inner city day camp, and on the mission field. American poet Vachel Lindsay said, ‘The Salvation Army is Christianity with its sleeves rolled up.’ I like that.
“Many individuals have broken down physically, emotionally, economically and socially. Through its social service programs, the Salvation Army attempts to restore them to health and to give them a sense of dignity before introducing the claims of Christ. The focus is on soup, soap and salvation — on meeting people where they are, on being saved to serve.”
Growing up in the Salvation Army has benefitted Mary. She learned to speak before a crowd at a young age as children are often asked to address the congregation. She also had women pastors as role models.
“The Salvation Army has always ordained women,” she says. “If a pastor is married, both spouses are ordained, for both share in the ministry. Women preach, teach and contribute equally.”
Mary and her husband, Eric Studt, share in caring for their children, Gabriel, 7, and Isabel, 2. Eric does Spanish interpreting in the mornings and Mary teaches in the afternoons.
As a Spanish professor, Mary values immersion programs; her majors are required to spend a year in a Spanish-speaking country. But she believes all students benefit from living abroad, so she is helping to develop a Westmont semester in Querétaro, Mexico, for students in all majors. Participants will live with a Mexican family, study Spanish and take general education classes at the local university. A Westmont professor will help the group make the cultural adjustment.
These students will be immersed in the culture by living with a Mexican family, but they will also belong to a Westmont community. Mary considers this approach the best of both worlds.
“Participating in off-campus programs gives students an important new perspective,” Mary notes. “For the first time in their lives, they become ‘the other,’ and they learn what it is like to be different, to be a minority. They become more sensitive and empathetic to those who are different when they return to campus.”
Mary has studied this issue in her scholarly research on Cabeza de Vaca, a 16th century explorer and one of the first non-Indians to cross North America on foot. “La Relación,” the account of his adventures, reveals the gradual development of his attitude toward Native Americans, from people to be conquered to brothers in Christ.
“His changing vision has less to do with the Indians’ treatment of him or with exterior circumstances (which varied considerably), but rather with a transformation within the chronicler himself. He became one of the first advocates for Native American rights,” Mary notes.
Internships in Santa Barbara also give students an immersion experience by working with Spanish-speaking churches, organizations and businesses. Mary is proud of that involvement and knows it will help shape students, as her work with the Salvation Army has shaped her.